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I love to travel. There is such a wide and wonderful world full of exciting new things just waiting to be explored. From family vacations to solo trips, travel can be quite an eye-opening experience.
In addition, it’s a great way to relax and destress. We have so much going on in our day-to-day that just getting our mind to shut off can be a challenge. Taking a vacation allows you to remove yourself physically from the stresses of daily life. You can focus on the new location, finding things to do that interest you, relaxing and just enjoying doing something different.
I think it’s important for everyone to take the time for a vacation. Sometimes, taking a staycation is the right move, whether for financial or mental health reasons. In some cases, taking some time to relax in your own home is exactly what you need to reset your mindset and get your priorities in order.
However, I feel strongly that a small travel budget should not be a reason for you not travel and experience new things. There are easy tips and tricks that will allow you to not only travel to places you never thought possible but also do it in style.
What if I told you that you could fly in first or business class on your next trip?
Would you like to stay in a top rated hotel in a highly desirable location?
Could you do all of this and still stay within your travel budget?
You may be wondering:
How is that even possible? It’s true that if you were to pay out of pocket for a first class or even business class airplane ticket, you will be shelling out a lot of money. In many cases five or six times more than the price of an economy class tickets. Who can afford that?
And nice hotels are certainly not cheap. Someone has to pay for those warm fluffy towels and mints on the pillows. What about the around-the-clock, top-notch customer service? The great location and proximity to local attractions? While those are nice, the price may not justify the amenities in your eyes.
There is an easy way to afford these types of luxuries and I’m here to help you understand how leveraging credit cards can help you upgrade your next vacation.
But before we dig in deeper, a word of warning: If you have bad credit, do not pay your credit cards on time or are not responsible with credit, these tips are not advised.
I’d highly suggest you formulate a plan for paying off your existing credit card debt, become a responsible credit card user and then you can try some of these tricks.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Enter: travel hacking
You have probably heard the term “travel hacking” before but you may not know what it is, how it works and how to leverage it to make the most of your budget. Here is a quick primer about what travel hacking is and how you can use it to your advantage.
Hotel and airline brands issue their own co-branded credit cards with major banks such as Citibank and Chase.
Those co-branded credit cards offer sign up bonuses to new applicants who get approved for the card and meet certain requirements, which all differ by credit card.
Once you meet the requirements, you will receive a perk related to that hotel or airline brand’s customer loyalty program. For example, airlines usually offer a certain number of airline miles and hotels offer either hotel loyalty points or free stays.
You can use these airline miles and hotel points to book free flights and hotel nights at certain hotels all over the world.
Boom! Free vacation. How awesome is that?!
But here’s the kicker:
Opening new credit cards should not negatively affect your credit report as long as you follow a few simple rules below. I would caution you against opening a lot of new credit cards if you plan on applying for a large loan such as a home loan but otherwise this should not really impact it.
Let’s break it down
Now, the outline above is very top level and does not really go into some very important details about how exactly these credit cards work and some do’s and don’ts when applying and using them to book free travel.
Let’s address some of these next:
Credit cards have set rules about how often you can apply for one of their products. Most (but not all) will let you apply for a credit card if you’ve never had this particular card in the past or if it has been at least 24 months since you closed it. It’s always important to read the fine print for each credit card you are applying for to make sure that you will qualify for the sign up bonus.
In addition, many banks have specific rules about the number of credit cards you have open or how many credit cards you have opened in the past from that particular brand. For example, Barclaycard will only approve you for one or two cards max a year while Chase Bank will not approve you for certain credit cards if you’ve either opened or closed more than five credit cards in a 24-month period. Always check the rules!
If you add an authorized user on a credit card, that card will show up on that person’s credit report and most banks will count that person towards their limits. If you have a significant other and you each want to apply for certain cards, do not add him or her as an authorized user. I can’t stress this enough (only because I’ve gotten burned with this rule in the past. It sucks.)
If you open a credit card and decide you do not want to keep it long-term, you just want the sign-up bonus, do not close it four or five months later after you have received your sing-up bonus. Banks hate that and will be a lot less likely to approve you for their cards in the future. Make sure you keep the card for at least 10 or 11 months before you cancel it to show that you really tried the product and used it before deciding to cancel. If the annual fee was waived for the first year, this still gives you enough time to cancel before you get charged but will keep banks happy.
Pay your credit cards on time, ever time. Do not carry a balance. All of the interest you would pay on credit card fees will negate your savings. Ok, now I’m getting down off my soapbox.
Are you ready to try some travel hacking yourself? Awesome. Why pay for something when you can get it for free, right?
One thing to note is that booking flights and hotels using miles and points takes some advance planning. You are not going to be able to book an award flight using American Airlines miles for a vacation next month. Award flights and hotels go fast as there are usually only a limited number of flights and hotel rooms release to loyalty program members.
I’d suggest working 10 – 12 months out at least to get the best seats and hotel room dates for your destination. Also, having some flexibility in your travel plans will make it even easier to find good deals on your next vacation.
Don’t feel overwhelmed, there is a lot of information out there on travel hacking and how you can find the best combination of loyalty programs for your next vacation. Start slowly with one or two credit cards so you can get a better idea of how the system works. Make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirements so you can get your sign-up bonus and then use it so you can enjoy the benefits and see if this will fit well with your lifestyle.
I always advocate doing what works for you. At the end of the day, you may decide that this is too much work to get free flights and hotels. And that’s ok.
But I strongly believe that you should know that this option exists out there so you can make an educated decision.
This is why I wanted to write this quick primer to show you the possibilities.
Do you do any travel hacking? What have you found works best for you? Share in the comments.
Resources that I love:
If you’re looking to save money on your shopping, then I highly recommend checking out these ideas!
Amazon Prime – With free unlimited two-day shipping and no minimum purchase required, Amazon Prime is the perfect solution for your holiday shopping. You get a FREE 30-day trial membership for signing up through my link. I absolutely love my Amazon Prime membership!
Ebates – Get cash back for any purchases that you are already making online. Just go through the Ebates cash back portal and you will get a percentage back of your total order price. You can also use coupons on top of going through Ebates for even more savings. Read my review of Ebates here. You get $10 FREE cash back after you make a $25 purchase for signing up through my link.
Ibotta – Get cash back for purchases, including groceries, clothing and more! Download the app on your phone, check it before heading to the store so you can add any rebates that interest you, then shop as usual. When you get home, just scan your receipt and enjoy the cash back. It’s such an easy way to get some extra cash!